Editorial: Break down barriers to voting

Published 10:05 am Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The march to demand documents at polling places, including photo IDs and proof of citizenship, has been quietly persistent — and as disturbing in its reach as in its potential for negatively influencing elections.

At least 10 states — including, now, Minnesota — have adopted, debated or proposed Election Day requirements that would put up barriers to voting, infringing on citizens’ most important and cherished civic responsibility and civil right.

In Duluth, the push is to require photo IDs so election judges can verify voters are who they say they are. Stymied by the state Legislature, the St. Paul-based Minnesota Voters Alliance is gathering signatures in Duluth to force a photo ID question onto a ballot.

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An estimated 10 percent of voting-age Americans don’t have photo IDs. Many with low incomes can’t afford them. The elderly are unable to easily get out to get them. And the disengaged are unlikely to make an extra effort to vote.

In Duluth, requiring a photo ID at polling places could leave as many as 8,600 people out of the public process of picking our governmental leaders.

The goal should be simplifying the voting process, not making it more difficult.

“There are tens of millions of people in this country who don’t have this type of identification,” Brennan Center Executive Director Michael Waldman told MSNBC in 2008.

“You’d have to be a fool to go to the polls and pretend to be someone else,” Ohio State University law professor Daniel P. Tokaji added in an interview with the network. “If you’re (going to) cheat, the easiest way is to do so through mail-in ballots.”

A rapidly growing number of voters are using mail-in ballots. How would they show ID?

Would requiring IDs actually open the door to new forms of fraud? What ID would be deemed acceptable? Only a driver’s license? Not everyone drives. Could an election judge’s decision to accept or not accept an ID be challenged?

The prospect of additional training for poll workers was just one expense that led to an estimate of $1 million a year to require photo IDs at polls in South Carolina. That shocking annual cost doesn’t even include the potentially pricey fight of legal challenges that inevitably would follow.

Would the Minnesota Voters Alliance be willing to foot the bill for ID card-making machines at every polling place? In addition to gathering signatures, perhaps it could take up a collection.

Or it could drop the whole idea in the name of preserving our civic rights and in encouragement of full participation in our representative government.

— Duluth News Tribune, May 23